New Paper: Contribution of physical factors to handpump borehole functionality in Africa

The latest from the Hidden Crisis project:


  • Functionality classifications were used to assess the role of physical factors on handpump borehole (HPB) performance.
  • Hydrogeology, borehole configuration and handpump (HP) components were examined by dismantling 145 HPBs.
  • Handpump components are in very poor condition overall, negatively affecting HPB performance.
  • Transmissivity and borehole configuration are important factors for classification of HPBs as low yield and/or unreliable.

Handpumps are the main water supply for rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa. However, studies show that >25 % of handpumps are non-functional at any time. We present results from a systematic field study of handpump borehole functionality.

The study was designed to investigate the contribution of physical factors to functionality outcomes, including; hydrogeology, borehole configuration, and handpump components. To achieve this, we deconstructed and examined 145 handpump boreholes in Ethiopia, Uganda and Malawi.

Pumping tests showed that 19 % of boreholes were located in aquifers with transmissivity below the minimum required to sustain a handpump. Water levels, measured during the dry season, had a complex relationship with borehole configuration and transmissivity.

The handpump cylinder was <10 m below the water table at 38 % of sites, which increases the risk of the handpump running dry during intensive use and/or in areas of low transmissivity. The water column was <20 m at 23 % of sites and screens were <10 m long at 29 % of sites and often sub-optimally positioned in the borehole. Borehole depth had no clear relationship with functionality.

Using multinomial regression and four functionality categories (functional; unreliable; low yield; unreliable and low yield) as dependant variables, we found that transmissivity is a significant risk factor for the classification of handpump boreholes as low yield.

The configuration of the borehole (e.g. cylinder position, screen/casing configuration and water column) is a statistically significant risk factor for the classification of handpump boreholes as unreliable.

Handpump components were in poor overall condition but rising main pipes were a particular problem with 53 % of galvanised pipes corroded and 82 % of uPVC pipes damaged, with implications for handpump performance. Our study highlights the importance of; understanding aquifer properties, investing in borehole siting, construction (including supervision) and commissioning, and improving the quality of components and maintenance of handpumps.

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